As the gory, violent scene of the rodents' demise played to completion in Santa's mind, the giant, leather-clad wharf rats withdrew their thick tails from the sewage and began slowly creeping towards the red-suited, sack-toting exemplar of charitable feelings and unbridled good will to all good little children. Again he focused his attention on the approaching creatures, preparing for their attack and quick defeat at his hands. And then the rats simply stopped.
Santa Claus relaxed his warrior's stance and gazed at them with more than a little confusion.
"What are you waiting for?" he roared. "Attack!"
At this, one of the rats bared its sharp teeth and barked fiercely at Kris Kringle, but a look of recognition crossed the face of the other rodent -- if the faces of giant wharf rats are capable of conveying "human" emotion accurately at all, that is. I write "human" in quotation marks, you see, because, despite the insistence of many that only humans have feelings, anyone who has ever had a pet or looked into the eyes of the poor doomed cows at the slaughterhouse knows full well that "lower" animals are quite capable of feeling as well. Whether the actual depth of the feelings of animals aspires to that of human beings we cannot say, but simply because an animal lacks the linguistic capacity to put its feelings into words or explore the possible reasons that it might be feeling a certain way -- and it must be noted that even a great deal of humans lack this ability, hence the emphasis on mental health and the popularity of therapists, even with the small amount of disdain with which we sane persons view those who see them -- does that make the feelings of beasts any less valid? I submit that it does not. However, this digression may not be entirely warranted, for a look of recognition does not properly qualify as an emotion, and therefore to say that a look of recognition crossed the face of one of the wharf rats does not necessarily imply that the face of that wharf rat would accurately convey emotion, human or otherwise, in a way that we would recognize -- for these (looks of recognition and emotions proper), as we have noted, are not the same.
One might infer, however, that if a rodent's face can give the impression that it actually recognizes a bearded fat man wearing a red suit with white fur trim and carrying a brown, bulging sack slung over his right shoulder, it would likewise be capable of conveying various emotions in such a way that we might look upon it and say, "Hey, that fucking huge wharf rat wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket sure is happy today! Why are you so happy today, Mr. Wharf Rat?" We would ask the latter question because, given that its face is capable of displaying the full range -- or at least a part of it -- of the emotions that we call "human" (owing to their complexity, or perhaps our human superiority complex; as noted earlier, many people seem to believe that only humans are capable of experiencing legitimate feelings), it would not require an excessive leap in deductive reasoning to assume that the rodent might also be capable of human speech. Consider that, in order to convey the vast majority of complex emotions, one must be able to contort one's mouth in a variety of ways -- and if one could twist one's lips in such a way to display these deeper emotions, does it not make sense that, in parting those lips (assuming one had a tongue that was up to the task), one might not have the ability to communicate those feelings verbally as well?
None should be surprised, then, that upon recognizing Santa Claus, the second wharf rat turned to its companion and hissed, "Hush, fool! Don't you know who this man is?"
The barking rodent, which I will, until further notice, refer to as Wonrat, quieted and turned to face the other, which, until his true name is divulged, will be called Rattoo. "Obviously not!" Wonrat replied. "Since you know so goddamned much, why don't you tell me who he is? That is, since you know so goddamned much," the rat repeated.
"Why," cried Rattoo, "he's the great Saint Nicholas -- in the flesh!"
"As if!" shouted Wonrat with a slight tinge of disgust to his voice. "You say that -- 'in the flesh' -- as if I could expect the great Saint Nicholas to appear to us in some other form. What, would he have come loping down this sewer tunnel in the form of a skeleton, or perhaps as a phantasm -- the transparent and howling ghost of Christmas past, present, and future rolled into one terrifying spectral entity? Enough of your foolishness!"
Rattoo blinked and looked back at his partner with more than a little confusion written on his face. "I was only saying," he replied sheepishly.
At this, Wonrat threw back his head and let loose with a rather ugly laugh. "Of course you were 'only saying,'" he said. "If you had been doing any more than saying, you would have been doing, and I can't think of much to do when one is merely pointing out the approach of a happy, jolly fat man in a sewer. Of course, in a manner of speaking, to say something is to be doing something as well -- to be speaking -- but these do not entail doing different things, such that you would have had to mention that your saying also, in fact, constituted doing something. Yes, you were 'only saying.' While saying can be doing, saying cannot be climbing ladders or boxing with kangaroos or fishing with one's tail or swimming about in murky waters in search of a surface woman's lost diamond wedding ring -- and when pointing out that Saint Nicholas is approaching, as I've noted, there is no need to perform any other task except that of pointing out his approach, which, as you've rightly noted, only entails saying something. You needn't apologize for 'only saying,' then -- it's all you could have done, after all -- but please, stop stating the obvious!"
"Fine, fine," Rattoo replied, then, "NO! Wait. Perhaps, someday, I will stop stating the obvious -- that is a distinct possibility, at any rate, though it may take the addition of a third member of our clique for that result to obtain. After all, while the obvious is, per its name and as I am noting at this very moment, obvious, it is also true that, in many cases, perhaps it is not quite as obvious as one believes it to be -- for has there not been a number of times that some obvious thing has been overlooked and has never crossed the mind of a person to whom it should, by right of its obviousness, occurred immediately? I submit that there have! After all, not everyone is quite as sharp as you are, Brother Wonrat, and even you are not completely infallible. Therefore, then, because it has been shown that the obvious can fail to be observed if left unmentioned -- even though it is, as we have noted, obvious -- it seems that there should always be someone on hand to state the obvious. For, if there were not someone around to remind people of the obvious at all times, then there would, no doubt, be times when the obvious would go unrecognized and unexamined -- and can you imagine the tragedies and horrors that might take place if people started missing the obvious on a regular basis? Calamity and chaos and other words that begin with 'C' and have meanings that have something to do with great turmoil and upheaval! Catastrophe! Confusion! Clamor! Commotion! Why, it would be cataclysmic!
"But fear not, Brother Wonrat, for now, it seems, not only will I not stop stating the obvious, but will furthermore go out of my way to do so, not only for my own benefit, but for yours as well -- for if I were to stave off stating the obvious and, instead, merely think it to myself, I would have no way of knowing whether it had actually crossed your mind or not. And suppose that it hadn't! We are not always together, and therefore you will not always have my knowledge of the obvious at your disposal. And suppose you should stumble into a situation where knowledge of the obvious were quite necessary and you were found to be lacking? Calamity! Chaos! Catastrophe! Confusion! Clamor! Commotion! Cataclysmic conclusions! It would be a legitimate crisis! So I will do my best to help you, and all others who make our acquaintance, Brother Wonrat, and point out the obvious, lest they miss it and find themselves faced with grave danger later as a result of that unfortunate oversight.
"But if it should happen that we should gain a new member to our party who, it turns out, is even more adept at stating the obvious than I, Rattoo, could ever hope to be, then I will gladly relinquish my position as He Who States The Obvious and bestow that title upon a person whose mental faculties and penchant for stating the obvious are better-suited to the task than my own -- and this, I think, would truly be in the best interests of all parties concerned. Do you not agree, Brother Wonrat?"
Ah, you see! It so happens that the temporary names by which we decided to refer to these two giant, leather-clad wharf rats with fur slickly gelled with slime and sewage were also, in truth, the names by which they referred to themselves, as indicated here by Rattoo's speaking. It seems, then, that we were, in fact, referring to them by their true names, insofar as the name one uses to refer to oneself and prefers that others use to refer to the individual can be said to be one's true name -- for it may be the case that one's true name is determined by sundry and complicated factors outside of the individual's control. For example, consider the possibility that reincarnation actually does happen, and that a great deal of the souls floating around in the world today -- which is to say that they are not literally floating, as in floating about aimlessly in incorporeal form, passing by and through us as they drift from place to place, but floating about in the forms of living beings, being the animating force of most or all living creatures that walk along or grow out of the planet's surface -- have been around in previous incarnations before. And since one's true name, insofar as it really is one's true name, can never change -- and since, at least in the vast majority of cases, one would undoubtedly be known by and refer to oneself by different names throughout one's various and manifold lifetimes, it would seem that the name one uses to refer to oneself and prefers others to use when referring to the individual cannot really be the individual's true name.
Where might one's true name come from, then? Perhaps all new souls, upon their initial genesis, are assigned true names, based upon certain inalterable qualities inherent in their soul nature or even chosen completely at random from an infinite list of new potential names. Or perhaps one's true name is not really a name -- or at least not a name in the sense in which we think of names -- for perhaps, at this point in which the new and unique soul is born, it is not marked with a name but a number -- such that one's true "name" might really be "Soul Number One Hundred and Eighty Trillion, Six Hundred and Seventy-Five Billion, Three Hundred and Forty-Three Million, Eight Hundred and Twenty-Six Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty-Four". But at the risk of stating the obvious, I think it's high time we got back to that dialogue between our two giant sewer-slicked wharf rats.
"What?" cried Wonrat. "Brother Rattoo, I dare say that I do not agree -- not at all! Though perhaps that is too strong, for I'm sure I agree with some small portion of your argument, in which case to say that I don't agree with it at all seems a bit excessive, doesn't it? Here, let me explain my thoughts. Consider that we get angry with others for stating the obvious -- or, if we do not get angry with them, per se, we at least mock them in some derisory fashion -- because, as you have pointed out, the obvious is obvious! Arguably, if it were not obvious to everyone -- for the truly obvious, I think, must be obvious to everyone, in order for it to be worthy of being called obvious -- then it wouldn't really be obvious at all, would it? No, no, I take that back -- the simple fact that not everyone finds it to be obvious does not necessarily entail that it isn't obvious at all, for perhaps there are varying degrees of obviousness that might accurately be applied to any particular statement.
"As such, then, I admit that a thing that is obvious to some may not be obvious to everyone, such that there will be fairly obvious things of which it might rightly be said that that at least some individuals, some of the time, will fail to take notice. However, I do not agree that it is necessary to have a person always on hand to divulge the obvious, for, supposing that some persons actually miss out on things that are, while being obvious, not entirely obvious to them, I can't see much harm coming of that -- and given that the obvious is often something stupid or pointless or useless or otherwise unremarkable and unworthy of mention -- perhaps that explains our disdain for those who take it upon themselves to speak the obvious aloud? -- it might actually be a good thing that the obvious goes ignored where these persons are concerned. For my part, there have been a great many occasions on which I would rather have remained blissfully ignorant of the obvious reality of the utter stupidity and ridiculousness of the circumstances in which I found myself mired down at those particular moments. And you mention danger? Why, I cannot think of a single instance in which someone might end up being injured for lacking this knowledge of the obvious."
"Shall I favor you with an example, Brother Wonrat?"
"I believe that you must, Brother Rattoo -- for if your statement that persons who do not recognize the obvious may be endangered by their failure in this regard is true, and if the truth of this proposition is at all obvious, then I might quite possibly come to harm if someone does not make this truth more clear to me by way of example or argument or downloading this information into my brain by means of a complicated metal mind-enhancing helmet or something. But since we lack the latter, I suppose that you'll simply have to convince me the old fashioned way." Upon finishing this statement, Wonrat made a polite little bow and stepped back, as if offering the floor to Rattoo.
Rattoo smiled a nasty smile that displayed every last one of his sharp and tartar-coated yellow teeth and stepped forward, his thick lash of a pink tail whipping about excitedly. "I thank you for presenting me with this opportunity to enlighten you, Brother Wonrat! And indeed, I can give you an example of an instance in which lacking knowledge of the obvious could have dire consequences. Do you recall, my friend, the story of Chicken Little, which is commonly told to humans during their youth?"
Wonrat blinked, shook his head, and cried aloud, "Why, no, Brother Rattoo -- I do not believe that I am familiar with that story! Would you be so kind as to give me a summary of that children's tale?"
"I would! Indeed I would!" shouted Rattoo by way of reply. "The story of Chicken Little is as follows: On a farm on which, for some reason never explained in the story -- you'd think that this would bother human children, as it makes no sense, and, unlike adults, children can usually be relied upon to pounce on such things, as in the story of the emperor who parades around naked and believes himself to be wearing splendid garments. By the way, Brother Wonrat, are you at least familiar with that story?"
"Again, Brother Rattoo, I am in ignorance!" cried Wonrat. "Perhaps you would do me the honor of summarizing that tale first, and then returning to the story of Chicken Little?"
"I could! Indeed I could!" replied Rattoo with a delighted chirp. "That story, entitled 'The Emperor's New Clothes' and authored by that famed author of a number of children's stories, Hans Christian Anderson, is about an emperor who loved to change clothes and show off his garments to his lowly subjects, for he was quite the vain and egotistical bastard. Unlike us, you see, he was not content to simply wear stylish black leather jackets adorned with metal zippers and studs. At any rate, one day a pair of thieves masquerading as tailors convinced him that they had made him a fabulous outfit from the most marvelous fabrics and that shined with dazzling colors, but in reality had made him nothing. The emperor's vanity, however, prevented him from admitting that he saw nothing, because, he reasoned, that would make him look like a fool, since something was obviously there.
"And so he was paraded around the town quite naked, and since none of his subjects wanted to appear foolish as well -- for he was obviously wearing something, otherwise he would not have been so confidently riding about and condescendingly waving to the people below -- they all pretended that they saw these remarkable garments when, in truth, none of them saw anything except his flabby, naked flesh, stringy brown body hair, and his tiny little pecker. And the rest of him too, mind you, but I needn't name every body part of the emperor -- suffice it to say that he was naked, yet because of his and his subjects' inability or unwillingness to state the obvious, all pretended that he was clothed in the most regal garments that they had ever seen. All except a small boy in the crowd, mind you, for, as I've said -- and as was my reason for mentioning this story in the first place -- children have an uncanny knack for stating the obvious, and here this little boy cried aloud, 'The emperor is naked!'
"And that is what it took for the majority of the subjects to realize the truth -- a simple child's statement of the obvious -- though even then the emperor continued to go about as if he were wearing the greatest of all sets of clothes and looked upon those who believed him to be naked with the utmost contempt. That, then, is the abridged version of Hans Christian Anderson's 'The Emperor's New Clothes', Brother Wonrat. So, you see, if one is not made aware of the obvious -- and by a trusted friend, at that -- one might run the risk of parading around naked in public and causing oneself a great bit of embarrassment, even if that person refuses to acknowledge the shame in his or her predicament."